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  • Writer's pictureThrive Inc.

Five Mistakes that Stall Your Team and What to Do About Them

If you lead a team, you may have noticed that the issues you used to face in the physical world have become even more challenging in a virtual environment. It’s more important than ever to be aware of your behavior to ensure you’re leading effectively and aren’t falling into a trap.

We’ve worked with so many good leaders who are making basic mistakes that undermine the team’s forward progress and stall the business. A great company or leader isn’t one that never makes a mistake, it’s one that makes mistakes and recognizes they have the resilience and ability to use that mistake to grow and develop.

Join us this week and hear five common mistakes we’ve seen leaders make, and how you can use them to improve the effectiveness of your team. We’re discussing the benefits of working with others, and how learning from these mistakes can help you have honest, productive conversations with your team.

If you want to make a difference for either yourself and your career, or your team and your organization, be sure to reach out to us and sign up for coaching! We can come and do a book club or simply visit with your team! Don’t worry about physical limitations – we work really well virtually, too!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Learn More:

  • Some behaviors exhibited by a good leader.

  • The importance of making sure all team members are seen and heard.

  • Some tools to work effectively with teams.

  • How to learn from mistakes and challenges.

  • Some actions leaders take that disrupt the trust of the organization.

  • The absolute worst thing you can do as a leader.


Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. I am CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan.

CrisMarie: We run a company called Thrive Inc, and we specialize in conflict resolution, stress management coaching and building strong, thriving teams and relationships both in person and virtually.

Susan: We are starting 2021 with a series based on our book, The Beauty of Conflict for Teams. We’ll be sharing tips, tools about how to make your team work more effectively especially in this remote and virtual environment. We hope you’ll walk away from this episode and this series with some fresh ideas that change your day, your week and even your life.

Well, welcome to our second installment of our special series, The Beauty of Conflict for Teams which we’ll be running here in this first quarter. And it is on our book, based on our book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage. And we’re going to take you right into one of the chapters. This is chapter 25, five mistakes that stall your team and what to do about them.

CrisMarie: Good leaders make basic mistakes that undermine the team’s forward progress and stall the business. So listen to this leadership team of a manufacturing company at their monthly strategic meeting. Fritz, the Chief Marketing Officer says passionately, “We need to put our energy into positioning our new product line and stop spending so much time focusing on the legacy product.” “I totally disagree”, Stanley, Chief of Operations jumps in. “We need to make sure we don’t lose the customers that got us here while we’re inventing something new.”

Fritz counters, “We definitely need new products.” Betsy chimes in, the CFO, and laments to Michael the CEO, “Fritz and Stanley may both be right. We won’t know until we do a detailed analysis.” Michael says, “Okay, okay. Fritz and Stanley, you two take your feud offline, we don’t have time to do a detailed analysis, Betsy. We need to make a decision by the end of the week. If you don’t come to a solution I will.” Fast forward, Fritz and Stanley never come to a solution.

In the next meeting, Michael, the CEO lays out the product strategy plan that maintains focus on the existing customer base. Surprised that Michael made a decision without a discussion the team listens quietly at the table, because they still were at the table at this point, nodding their heads. Michael interprets those head nods as agreement and commitment. So Michael made several mistakes in this scenario. Do you know what they are? Susan, what’s the first one?

Susan: Well, the first one is that kind of classic line where he said, “You two take that feud offline”, between, I can’t remember.

CrisMarie: Fritz and Stanley.

Susan: Yes.

CrisMarie: Fritz the Marketing Officer and Stanley the Operations guy.

Susan: Now, there’s a couple of things wrong with that. One, even if they do successfully take it offline and they come to sort of agreement, the discussion that they’re having around the importance of the plan for marketing and how they’re going to solve it, everyone needs to hear it. So that’s the first problem.

CrisMarie: Because if you’re actually making a product strategy between whether we stay on existing products or we develop something new, you want your whole team and their brain power around that because that’s a huge impact on the business strategy.

Susan: I don’t know how many times we are with teams and this would have been one of them, but other teams where it’s really two people’s strategy about the best thing for the business, whether it’s growth or whether it’s going to be we need to be more a quality focused. And those two, if they’re at odds with each other and they don’t really talk about it together, it just fractures further down in the organization because the people further down who are…

CrisMarie: They’re like, “What do we do? Is it quality or is it growth?”

Susan: Yeah. And what happens then is they usually align around their particular leader which actually does not help the situation, it just makes it worse.

CrisMarie: So then teams start operating in silos because the leadership team isn’t having the tough conversations. And that phrase, take it offline, you two take it offline. What happens is those two people are having a hard enough time having this conversation. Do you think they’re really going to have that conversation with each other without the support of the team? No, they don’t do it.

Susan: What can be helpful is if I’m on your team and I’m listening to you and someone else who has very different value propositions or strategy ideas I might be able to kind of be the bridge in between because I might see the value in both of those and be able to help my team members sort through the differences.

CrisMarie: So the key here is to treat your team meetings as your playing field. Don’t try to solve or have those discussion offline. The context of the team, other people listening are valuable in helping two people who are fighting over strategies really see into each other’s worlds and bridge that gap and have that conversation. So don’t take it offline, if you hear yourself saying it, really we want that red flag to be going off in your head.

Or if you hear your leader saying you may want to say, “Well, wait a minute, I think this is an important discussion and I think it would be hard for them to have a meeting about it without the rest of us”, and see what happens.

Susan: Okay. So now what about the second mistake, CrisMarie, or do I get to identify them all?

CrisMarie: No. The second mistake is focusing only on the business problem. So this was again, Fritz wanting to invent new products and Stanley, Head of Operations really wanting to maintain the existing business and quality around it. So when you focus just on solving the business problem, what do you miss, Susan?

Susan: Well, in some respects what can start to happen is the two people who have the different perspectives actually become more and more divided and can get in each other’s way because they haven’t really aligned and agreed to anything, they’re not committed to the overall business strategy.

CrisMarie: So they’re more entrenched in their own silo and point of view.

Susan: Yeah. And you may miss, like the question asked in this scenario is…

CrisMarie: This is the magic tool.

Susan: The magic tool is, why is this is so important to you? So for Fritz to ask Stanley, “Why is it so important to you that we solve this problem first? Why is that where you’re focusing?” And really see if he can understand it and vice versa, Fritz could do that, Stanley could do that with Fritz.

CrisMarie: Yeah, “Fritz, why do you think going into new products is so important?” And Fritz asking Stanley, “Why is it so important that we maintain our existing business?”

Susan: And if you go at it from that perspective then you get that IQ of each of those critical subject matter experts about why they’re taking the position they do. You don’t have to decide which one you’re going to take yet. But you get their input out on the table.

CrisMarie: We have been with teams over and over again and this is when we are facilitating team meetings, now even virtually, slowing that conversation down and we’ll ask those questions to those two people. And what starts to percolate, when people really start to answer why is this so important to me? Because I think we’re going to miss the next big window. Our competitors are doing this. And you get what’s inside, how they’re putting their world together, the same with Stanley on the, we need to maintain our existing product line.

And what starts to happen is new ideas start to emerge and you start to – actually you’re not trying to solve the problem of new products, old products, you actually get down to, oh my gosh, we need to innovate. You get to a lower level root cause discussion. When you start to slow people down and they talk about what’s important to them, you get to more their values, their thinking and new creative ideas emerge.

Susan: I was thinking about this from a standpoint of something probably a little more current and recent and how there’s all these different products for virtual meetings. You could use Teams. You could use Zoom.

CrisMarie: The video?

Susan: Videos. And usually what happens when we - Webex or…

CrisMarie: Google Meet.

Susan: Google Meet and often when we’ve brought up, so we have our favorite which we like Zoom because we love the breakouts. But often the conversation gets stopped pretty quickly with whatever, like I fight for breakouts. I was thinking of somebody else that was like, “We want to make sure it’s private and Zoom has horrible, security, security, security.” But what’s missing in that conversation is, okay, so why is Zoom so important to me? Or why is security so important to you? Let’s talk about that. And not just do the classic well, you know.

CrisMarie: Fighting over strategy [crosstalk] solution.

Susan: Yeah. And for me when I actually started to help me understand, I actually felt like when I got asked that question and this was through some work with Microsoft because I was coaching some people there. And they wanted to know why I still was interested in Zoom. And they kept telling me the reason I shouldn’t be but it still wasn’t working until they said, “Why does that?” And I explained how frustrated I got with how Teams did breakouts and how I didn’t have any control over it and how I couldn’t actually go in and different things.

And at that moment I actually felt like someone was listening to me. Now, I’m not going to say that I inspired Microsoft to change their Teams but I do know now they added some dimensions and I think some of that is because maybe they did ask that question. And I think those sort of things, that’s what I mean, find out why someone is fighting for something or fighting against something. And you might actually begin to get to, well, wait a minute, we could do that and still have security covered.

CrisMarie: So I think really, and also you said something in the midst of all that Susan, that I think is pretty powerful is you felt seen and heard when somebody asked you that question. And too often when people are fighting over their strategy, they’re fighting to be heard. And there’s kind of like a desperate nature, it needs to be his way. And it’s really right or wrong, black and white, either or thinking.

And as soon as somebody feels seen and heard they kind of soften and open, and open to other possibilities. And I think that’s why we see so many creative solutions come out of those discussions when we’re facilitating those team meetings and we ask each of those people those questions.

Susan: Yeah, makes all the difference in the world. Alright, so we’re going on to mistake number three.

CrisMarie: So the mistake that Michael made in that meeting when he was rolling out the product strategy and nobody said anything and they were nodding their heads is, is assuming head nods means yes, I agree with you. Leaders make this mistake all the time. And head nods could be like hear you, ah-hm, I think it’s a stupid idea but I’m going to, ah-hm, I’m taking it in. I don’t actually understand a word you’re saying, it could mean that.

Susan: Or even just hearing a yes isn’t necessarily no, doesn’t mean anything. Yes, I agree with you because it’s really problematic if I don’t. Or we really encourage teams to go an extra step, take that yes, no out of it and ask your team mates are you thumbs up? This is just one example.

CrisMarie: Well, let’s be explicit. So rather than just being the tacit, it could be I’m thinking about what you’re saying but we go to suggesting that the team be explicit. Where are you in relationship to this idea? Do you agree with it? And we use thumbs because that’s a quick tool.

Susan: Yeah. And so thumbs up means yes, I’m all in. Thumbs sideways means I might agree with it but there’s some issues that I still have. And thumbs down means no, I’m not bought in at all.

CrisMarie: And through a video meeting this is really easy to use right now.

Susan: And even if you have somebody who isn’t on the video, they can punch, you know.

CrisMarie: They can state.

Susan: They can state where their thumb is.

CrisMarie: And the key is then you want to go back to the people that are sideways and down and say, “Okay, what’s going on for you? Why do you not like this or what are your concerns?” And then you’re focusing the dialog in the right locations where people do have concerns. And a lot of times you can do, “Okay, where are we on this idea?” And everybody’s got a thumbs up. So you can stop talking about it and move on.

Susan: Now, I don’t think we covered this in the book but I’m just going to say this here too just because I think it’s so critical. And then make sure after, what is it that you think we all just agreed to? And have people, because I don’t know how many times I have been coaching various people on a team and when I’m in a coaching session after a big team meeting and they’re telling me what they thought they agreed to do. And I’m like, “Well, that’s actually not what I thought any of you agreed to.”

And how often sometimes somebody takes away the one piece they heard and so often that can be a problem too because I can think of in particular recently a leader I was working with who was so frustrated with his team that, “Why are they not doing it?” And frankly I really was like, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that that’s what you wanted.” And he was saying, “I did.” And I was like, “Well, even if you did, when I was at the meeting I didn’t hear that. And you should ask, what do you think I’m asking from you right now because you are so frustrated by this.”

CrisMarie: So that is a great tool, what are we agreeing to and codify it, really be clear. And if you’re the leader you can say, “What are you hearing me say? What do you think I’m saying?” As a way – you can use this at home too with your relationship, anywhere, “What do you hear me saying?” As a way of seeing did this actually land? Did you take in what I said? Because so often people hear things in very different ways, I think that’s a great point Susan.

Susan: If you’re giving performance feedback to someone you know that that can be a difficult thing in the first place. So it becomes really your job to say, “What do you think is the most important three things that we talked about in this performance review? You tell me.” Too many times I’ve seen leaders say, “Let me tell you again. These are the three things you need to do different.” They don’t go in any different when you’re yelling at them.

CrisMarie: Or repeating them. So really slow down, I think so often we’re thinking we’re being efficient, we all agree. And whether it’s a performance review or a meeting, slow down and this is often our role when we’re there. “So you folks are agreeing to x, y and z, yes?” And I’m putting it on flipcharts so it’s captured. And people go, “Well, no.” And then there’s more discussion. Important to have it then versus three weeks from now when people have gone off in all different directions and now you have to pull it all back and rework it.

Susan: Believe it or not it really does help to have someone write it on a flipchart, not type it into a computer, I don’t know how many times people have sent notes around, they have someone who can type fast but actually isn’t a part of the meeting. And then that’s just really kind of asking for a problem.

CrisMarie: So yeah, the notes that you want to take are just the key phrases, the decisions, the key communications, next steps, parking lot, things like that, not every word in a meeting. So let’s go onto what are some other mistakes that Michael made?

Susan: I think we’re on the fourth mistake at this point.

CrisMarie: Okay. I don’t know if he actually did this but this is a common mistake we see leaders do which is trying to work for consensus, we all need to agree.

Susan: Well, Mike’s issue here was he basically said, “If you guys aren’t going to get to consensus I’m just going to make the decision anyway.” So he sort of like, “Yeah, I want you all to agree but if you don’t we’re going my way.”

CrisMarie: And really on teams most adults we don’t need to get our way but we do need to feel seen and heard, that’s so important. And if we’re just kind of railroaded like here, we’re going a totally different direction and I’m not even asking your opinion like Michael did, I’m not going to be bought into that solution because I’m like, well, whatever, it’s his idea.

So slowing down and using – so the tool is what we call disagree and commit which is from Andy Grove who used to be the Head of Intel. Where you really want people to share, no, with that thumbs indicator, no, I disagree, I think we’re making a big mistake and here’s why. And if I feel seen and heard the idea is when you leave that meeting can you commit to the decision even though it’s not what you want, that disagree and commit.

Susan: The only caveat I would add to this is I do think a lot of times people think this means I’m going to spew about why I disagree and then I’m going to commit. And no one actually takes…

CrisMarie: You mean in the meeting?

Susan: In the meeting, versus taking the time to say, “Let me see if I understand what you disagree with.”

CrisMarie: Again that slowing down.

Susan: Yes. No one really wants to focus on that listening skill. But we’re going to keep making it a very critical point because when someone really does feel seen and heard it makes all the difference in the world. That does not mean they’re agreed with but they have been seen and heard and that their perspective matters, that’s golden.

CrisMarie: So this is something I’m just going to give you a little invitation or challenge in your next meeting which I’m sure you’re having pretty quickly on video chat. When somebody says something controversial just actually take the time to say, “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying.” And reflect back what that person is saying, you’re not agreeing or disagreeing you’re just what we call, catching the ball. You’ll hear us use that on other podcasts.

Where you’re really slowing it down because that moment, one, the person feels seen and heard or can clarify if you’ve got it wrong. And two, it helps people digest that and maybe there is a nugget of truth or goodness out of that, that you do want to consider. And that disagree and commit what we mean is you’re going to speak up hopefully be, you know, somebody’s going to catch the ball and hear that. And then when you get to the end of the meeting your teammates will know that you disagree.

But you’re not going to go to your team and say, “Well, I don’t agree with this but they’re making us do this.”

Susan: That’s the absolute worst thing you can do as a leader. And your people may like you but you have just thrown the entire organization under the bus.

CrisMarie: Well, the leadership team, the team above you.

Susan: But when you throw your leadership team under the bus it deludes down at this level, it’s like crazy.

CrisMarie: So it breaks trust at the leadership level and it creates chaos and distrust all the way through the organization, it’s very toxic. So any time you don’t take responsibility for the decision of the team you’re a member of, you’re undermining the organization, the alignment across the organization. And we really want to underscore that, you’re what we call your A team, your number one team is actually the team you’re a member of. And most people don’t think that, they think, no, it’s the team that I lead, because I care about them and I’ve got to make sure they’re okay.

But the alignment above is what makes their life, the people that report to you their life easier, if you really align with that leadership team. And so this disagree and commit is you walk out of that room, your team that reports to you is not going to know if you disagree. Your words and actions are aligned to the leadership team. If you need to vent like I am still so frustrated, you go to a peer that’s on that leadership team and you vent. You do not vent to your right hand person because that again disrupts the trust of the organization.

Susan: Okay. So now we’re going to move on to the fifth mistake which we think can often happen on teams where you may have a tough decision to make so you get into overanalyzing it and analyzing it again and again because boy, if we make the wrong decision how costly is that going to be?

CrisMarie: This is where teams really want certainty; they’re driving for certainty because they don’t want to make a mistake. And we really advocate for clarity and it was Colin Powell who said, “If you have 40 to 70% of the information when you’re making a decision, that’s your action zone.” Below 40% you’re going off like a cowboy, above 70% you’re getting into what this mistake is, which is analysis paralysis because you’re afraid of failing. And you’re going to – the windows of opportunity are going to close and you’re not going to be effective.

Susan: But, you know, and the truth is there are people who really do need a lot of data, a lot of support before they can make that decision. And that’s not bad it’s just so one way you can deal with that is to really have a discussion when it comes up, when you realize wait a minute, we might be getting into analysis paralysis. Talk about what is the worst case scenario if we make this…

CrisMarie: This is the tool.

Susan: Yeah, if we make this decision, because if you start to talk about that and people do come up about what their concerns are, you have a way to sort of address it fairly quickly. And you can then okay, as soon as we start to see that happen we’ll stop. Or you realize, well, wait a minute, even if that did happen, it’s not that big a deal. We can recover. And so someone who has much more concern about not making a mistake may feel more at ease realizing yeah, we could make a mistake and survive.

CrisMarie: Yeah. So looking at that worst case scenario to allay your fears that if that happens you will survive. When you have a culture that tends to look for blame, well, it’s your fault and we’ll fire that person. Good teams actually are willing to go, “Oops, that didn’t work, what do we need to do?” Because there’s trust there and we can talk about, “Well, this is how I realize, I didn’t speak up and say”, whatever it is. They can rehash that and recover rather than looking for somebody to blame.

Susan: And we know that all of these things become even a little more challenging when you’re virtual. But they become even more important to do something to make sure you’re not falling into the traps of these five mistakes.

CrisMarie: Yeah. And the five mistakes, I’ll just summarize, are taking it offline, if you ever hear yourself say that, we want you to stop right there. Focusing only on the business problem, working for consensus, assuming head nods mean yes and getting into analysis paralysis. So the tools for taking it offline, you want to actually treat that team meeting as your playing field, this is where you want to have that discussion because those two people are never going to have that discussion alone, almost can guarantee you that.

Focusing on solving only the business problem, you want to ask each person, “Why is this so important to you? Why are you fighting so hard for this position?” Because when you do that you’re going to get underneath just their solution and see their reasoning, their values, what’s really driving them, and that’s powerful. Working for consensus, just ask for a thumb check, make it explicit, where you do agree, up, sideways, I have concerns, down, I don’t agree. And then assuming head nods mean yes, don’t, ask for, again, another explicit.

Susan: We’ve flipped those two just now. That would be when you do the thumbs up but it’s okay, we actually – this is such, so good.

CrisMarie: No, disagree and commit, ask for the disagree and commit.

Susan: That’s for the consensus.

CrisMarie: You can use the thumbs for that.

Susan: Okay. I think we have an error in our book, but I am okay.

CrisMarie: What I suggest is you get the Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage, read chapter 25 and let us know. The last one is analysis paralysis and you really want to go to what’s the worst case scenario. Stay in that 70%, go for clarity, not certainty and move forward so that you capture those windows of opportunity. Okay.

Susan: And again, just to reiterate, if at the end of the day you are having these real honest conversations with each other about your differences you will be able to adjust and make adjustments. The worst thing is that these conversations don’t actually come up, maybe because you’re tired of virtual meetings, maybe because you just don’t think you’re getting anywhere. But you really want to be having this kind of sometimes discomfort, and awkwardness, and how we’re doing on a regular basis.

CrisMarie: I know we were working with this company for a short amount of time and one of the things that they – they would make a mistake and they would never take time to debrief like, “Wow, what happened?” They just wanted to brace against it and move on. And they were missing so many golden opportunities about talking about, “Well, this didn’t work for me. And actually this was a break down in trust. And I feel like I can’t rely on you.”

Those conversations are so important to clear the air and recover from mistakes so that you can rebuild the relationship, you can understand and fix the right problem and garner all that to go forward.

Susan: I mean over and over again we have seen businesses and we’ve talked to leaders who will say, like their companies have been through sometimes hell and back, some big mistakes. And they know that that’s actually been okay. So it isn’t, you know, you’re not the great company if you never make a mistake, you’re actually the better company for it. And recognizing you have the resilience and the ability to use that to grow and develop.

CrisMarie: I think sometimes we can, whether it’s individuals, teams, or entire companies try to be perfect, and that just creates brittleness and a fear of mistakes and nobody wants to try anything because they’re too afraid that it’s going to work out wrong versus having that resiliency.

Susan: Yes, I think about that even in terms of 2020 as a year, I mean most people I know are like, “Let me just get over 2020, leave it behind.” I’m kind of like hopefully not because 2021 will that just be offering just as many opportunities.

CrisMarie: Well, we are in 2021 and you’re kind of like, “So what’s different? We still have Covid. We have this political stuff going on.”

Susan: We have a lot of different things. So the best thing to do is to actually learn from what could seem like a really challenging hard fought battle to get through in a big year like 2020, something in your company or whatever it was, don’t be afraid to talk about it.

CrisMarie: So hopefully these five mistakes and what to do about them will help you in your team and even how to deal with mistakes. We’re going to continue to talk about meetings, and teams, and how to make your business more effective with the people that you work with. I hope you have a good week.

Susan: Well, we hope you will be able to apply some of these five tips that we gave you for making your teams move out of a stall because we think so often teams are stalling and they don’t even realize it.

CrisMarie: And one of the things that we recognize is listening is hard enough when you’re all in the same room physically right there. So it’s so easy for people to checkout when you’re on these little screens virtually across the globe. So one of the things to remember being verbose in a virtual meeting is not an asset.

Susan: And one creative way to work with that is if you are that verbose person and you know you’ve got that other person [inaudible], have that person summarize what it is that you said because they will be able to do it in way fewer words. You can even ask them to introduce your idea if you really are bold enough to do it because it may be helpful to have less words, not more, especially virtually.

CrisMarie: So you could ask, “What are you hearing me say? Can somebody summarize what I’ve just said?” Or clarify the takeaways because so often we leave a meeting, everybody is unclear or thinks something different, so you want to actually get clarity on those next steps. Now, we’ve developed a little handout for you to take these tips and you can print it out, it’s just at the end, there’s a link, you can sign up for it and it’ll land in your email.

And if you want to talk to CrisMarie, me, or Susan, if you want to give us feedback or your ideas, or questions, we’d love to hear how this podcast is working for you and what you want more of, what you want less of at, you can email us,

Susan: Alright, we hope to hear from you again.

CrisMarie: And if you’re so bold, you can always leave an iTunes review, we love honest feedback, so go to iTunes and click away.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Download the eBook, How to Talk About Difficult Topics, today!

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